Tennessee Titans' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft
The Tennessee Titans are a tough team to figure out in the draft because they could go a number of ways. With starters like Ropati Pitoitua, Alterraun Verner and Bernard Pollard hitting free agency and other starters like Chris Johnson and David Stewart expected to be cut, according to ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, the Titans will have to make a lot of changes this season.
On the bright side, they have ton of options in the draft. On the down side, they have more needs than picks, so they'll have to let some deficiencies remain.
Here are some of their biggest needs and a look at some of the players who can fill them.
Defensive End: Stephon Tuitt
The Titans have needed a defensive end for some time now, but with them potentially shifting to a 3-4 or at least something more akin to a 3-4, they need to pick up an end who can play in that scheme.
Right now, Derrick Morgan, Lavar Edwards and Karl Klug could fit in the spot, but none are excellent fits, and only one is a reliable enough starter not to be a concern going forward. Because of that, the Titans may spend a high pick on a player who better fits the 3-4 scheme at the end position.
If they were use their top pick, the best fit would be Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt. Despite his size, he has been an effective pass-rusher for the Irish his whole career, and at 6'6" tall and 312 lbs, he has prototypical size for the position.
He was better in 2012 than 2013, but he was great both years, amassing a total of 94 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hurries, three defended passes and two forced fumbles.
He could play in either the 4-3 or the 3-4 too, so he has the versatility that the Titans crave.
If they were decide to spend a later pick on the position, Kareem Martin of North Carolina could be a good value in the middle rounds. He provides the same kind of versatility, although he'd need to gain some weight to play 3-4 end.
Rush Linebacker: Khalil Mack
With the Titans much more likely to run a lot more 3-4 fronts, they'll need a couple of guys who can play standing up. Akeem Ayers is already a great fit for the 3-4, but other than Kamerion Wimbley, who's likely to be cut soon per The Nashville Tennessean (h/t Rotoworld), the Titans don't have anyone ready to start at that spot.
Anthony Barr falling to the Titans wouldn't be unheard of, but it is unlikely. The best player they can probably expect would be Buffalo product Khalil Mack.
He first appeared on draftnik radars when he had a great game against Ohio State in the UCLA's first game of the season. Since then, he's completely dominated the small-school competition he's faced.
In 2013, he racked up 100 total tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, seven deflected passes and three interceptions, two of which he ran back for touchdowns.
He is just under 250 lbs, so he's a bit on the small side for a defensive end, but for a rush linebacker, he's the perfect size. He could easily gain a few more pounds and work in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
If the Titans were to wait until the second round, Missouri's Michael Sam and BYU's Kyle Van Noy would both be attractive options.
Offensive Tackle: Jake Matthews
With David Stewart likely to part ways with the team and Michael Roos closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the Titans need an offensive tackle or two as well.
Like the pass-rusher class, the offensive tackle class this year is excellent. Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Antonio Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio all look like first-round-caliber players.
At the 11th spot, one of the top two prospects at the position will probably be around. Matthews would be ideal because he'd start at right tackle, where he excelled as a starter in college before moving to the left side.
His family also has a history with the Titans. His father Bruce Matthews was a Hall of Fame lineman with the Titans and coached the offensive line under Mike Munchak.
Having a great track record, the right size, NFL bloodlines and familiarity with the team are about all you can ask for from a prospect, and Matthews has them all.
Alternatively, if the Titans wanted to give Byron Stingily a chance and draft someone to compete at right tackle, Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James could be a late-round steal after he was injured and kept out of the Senior Bowl.
Running Back: Tre Mason
If Chris Johnson is cut, which seems likely, then the Titans will need a new guy to share the load with Shonn Greene.
Depending on how much faith they have in Greene, they could forgo picking up a running back until the later rounds, but if they pick early, there are a number of guys who'd be great candidates.
No running backs in this year's class are worth an 11th overall selection, but a few might warrant the Titans' second pick.
Tre Mason is one such standout. He rushed for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013, including a ridiculous SEC Championship Game where he ran 304 yards and had four touchdowns against a usually stingy Missouri defense.
Realistically, running back is a lesser need, and capable starters can be found in later rounds. The Titans would be wise to grab a guy like Wisconsin's James White or West Virginia's Charles Sims in the middle rounds rather than spend a high pick.
Strong Safety: Craig Loston
Hopefully, the Titans will get Bernard Pollard to stick around, but if they don't, they'll need to spend an early or middle-round pick on a strong safety.
However, unlike the group of pass-rushers and offensive tackles, this year's group of safeties is nothing special.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is probably the only safety worthy of a top pick, but even he probably isn't worth being taken No. 11. Other than him, no safeties are worth taking in the second round over a tackle or pass-rusher.
A better fit for the Titans would be a mid-round safety who could play behind George Wilson or (hopefully) Pollard a while before getting any serious playing time. A good fit for that role would be LSU's Craig Loston.
He isn't a natural strong safety, but he's big enough to play the position and seems to have a lot of untapped potential.
Cornerback: Darqueze Dennard
Per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN, Alterraun Verner tweeted the names of the wide receivers he'll face in the Pro Bowl, whom he could meet again if he stays with the Titans. That's a good sign, but other teams will likely give him a bigger payday than the Titans are willing to.
If that happens, then Tennessee could end up picking another corner in the draft. However, if the team spends a pick on a corner at all, it would have to be the first pick, because it would need to grab a player who is ready to start right away.
The cornerback class is hard to sort out right now, but one player I keep liking more and more is Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.
The Spartans arguably had the best defense in college football this season, and Dennard was a big part of it. He intercepted four passes and defended 10 more in 2013 while also forcing two fumbles and picking up 3.5 tackles for loss and 62 total tackles.
He isn't the long, lean corner that has become popular in the NFL recently, but at 5'11", he's big enough to play the position and excel.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert would also warrant consideration.
Kick Returner: Bruce Ellington
Leon Washington was solid in 2013, but he only played half the season, will be 32 by the start of the new season and is a free agent anyway. The Titans need a new kick returner.
The ideal returner is someone who can also do something else. That's why I like Bruce Ellington.
Receiver may not seem like a position where the Titans will need help, but the only receivers under contract in 2014 are Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Nate Washington and Michael Preston. Everyone else is a free agent, so unless the Titans re-sign some players or pick up others in free agency, they'll need receiver depth.
Ellington can play the slot position in a way similar to Wright, since both are short but quick. He's also likely to be around after the Titans have spent priority picks on players who are expected to start.
Quarterback: Zach Mettenberger
New regimes typically mean new quarterbacks. Now in this instance, Ken Whisenhunt may be willing to give Jake Locker another season, but he may also want to spend a high pick on a quarterback and see which of the two comes out on top.
If the Titans do pursue a quarterback, they should wait until the second round. There are great prospects in this year's class, but none of the top three will be available by the time the Titans pick, and Derek Carr is not worth the 11th overall pick.
A better option would be taking Zach Mettenberger at the top of the second. He had a big season with LSU but missed out on a chance to go out with a bang when he suffered a season-ending injury in his last game.
He showed tremendous improvement in his senior season, throwing for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in the tough SEC West. He also has prototypical size and a big arm, which will make scouts like his upside.
Second-round quarterbacks don't often work out, but recently, lots of teams have been having success with players like Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, all of whom were drafted after the first round. Maybe the Titans could find similar success with Mettenberger.
Besides, it'll be easier on any quarterback when their team's first overall pick is used on an elite prospect at another position. Just ask Dalton about A.J. Green.